It's time to ring in the New Year, and most likely you'll do so with bubbles. But does it have to be Champagne? And does it have to be expensive? Not necessarily, as there are many, many other sparkling wines that offer the same dramatic effect of popping a cork and also please your palate — and won't break the bank.
Here are a few of my favorite sparklers, all at economical price points:
Champagne: Heidsieck & Co. Monopole Blue Top ($30)
This is “real” Champagne, from France, made in a dry style — so if you’re into the sweeter sparklers, stay away. Otherwise, dive right in. You will be excited with anticipation the moment the wine is poured into the glass, as it will become charged with an abundance of aggressive, tiny bubbles that develop an immediate, full foam (or mousse, as the geeks call it). Clean, citrusy, slightly toasted aroma that also has a hint of mineral. In the mouth, you get very similar flavors as were on the nose, along with a touch of honey and pear, all tightly wound by a stiffly acidic wrapper. It has excellent structure, yet remains elegant and has the perception of being lighter than it really is. You can read a previous post on Heidsieck Champagne here. At around $30, it's one of best remaining bargains coming out of Champagne, France. Find Heidsieck et Monopole Blue Top Champagne NV at a local retailer via Wine-Searcher.
Cava: Juve y Camps Reserva de la Familia ($15)
If you can’t afford good Champagne, the next best thing is a bottle of Prosecco (a sparkling wine from Italy) or Cava, which is Spain’s version of bubbly. This example from Juve y Camps has lots of fizz, good acidity, is fruity yet dry, and finishes with a nice clean aftertaste. Strong scents of pear and spice in the nose. Good fruit, good acidity and good finish. Nice mousse (bubbles/froth). Not overly dry; hint of sweetness. Elegant. A super bargain. Find Juve y Camps Reserva de la Familia Cava at a local retailer via Wine-Searcher.
Brachetto d'Acqui: Rosa Regale ($21)
To me this is the ideal wine for the holidays because of its festive, bright red color and mild sweetness that makes it a crowd pleaser. It's not dry by any means, but it has a racy acidity that tones down the sweetness and makes it marry well with food – particularly chocolate. Intense raspberry and strawberry flavors are carried with a soft fizz that is less bubbly than Champagne, but effervescent enough for celebrating. Disclaimer: I work for the company that imports Rosa Regale. Find Rosa Regale Brachetto d'Acqui at a local retailer via Wine-Searcher.
Prosecco: Maschio Prosecco Brut ($12)
In the past I have recommended and enjoyed Prosecco from Riondo, Zardetto, Nino Franco, and Zonin. This year I'm suggesting one that isn't quite as widely known but is similarly delicious and affordable: Maschio dei Cavalieri. It has a citrusy nose with hints of honeysuckle and toasted Wonderbread that remind me of Champagne. In the mouth it has clean white fruit carried on coarse bubbles, along with a touch of mineral. There is enough acidity to match fairly well with food, particularly spicy Asian dishes, and also with shellfish, Greek cuisine, pasta salads. Disclaimer: like the Rosa Regale, I discovered this wine at my new job working for the importer. Find Maschio dei Cavalieri at a retailer near you via Wine-Searcher.
USA Sparkling Wine: Domaine Ste. Michelle Blanc de Noirs ($12)
Color is a pale orange — more like cooked salmon than pink. Soft, fruity nose of citrus and a hint of raspberry. Pretty good mousse, with persistent medium-sized bubbles. In the mouth it is mostly dry, with maybe a touch of sweetness that is due more to a fun and fruity ripeness than dosage. Finishes completely dry, with a good dose of acidity, which helps with structure and food matching. This runs about $9-12 for a bottle, and at that price it is a steal. Domaine Ste. Michelle is one of, if not the, most respected wineries in Oregon. Find Domaine Ste. Michelle Blanc de Noirs at a local retailer via Wine-Searcher
What cork will YOU be popping for New Year's?